Being a journalist in Iran is one of the world’s most dangerous jobs

According to the United Nations, May 3 was World Press Freedom Day. That makes this a good time to stop and contemplate how dangerous it is to be a real journalist in Iran. There, a journalist takes his life into his hands if he tries to report facts with honesty and transparency. This regime has no qualms about using repression, censorship, and imprisonment to control the flow of news. Put simply, there is no press freedom in Iran

Although Iran has always been a dangerous place for journalists in the past decade it’s become increasingly risky to try to report the truth there. It is common for journalists and bloggers across Iran to be summoned, arrested, and sentenced to prison for expressing facts and real news.

Because the Iranian regime, like all tyrannies, is inherently unstable and it is currently facing serious economic problems, the mullahs are terrified that real news could act as a spark in a society on the verge of explosion. The last thing they want is another uprising such as the ones in 2018 and 2019. One way to try to deter uprisings is to cut off the Internet and sensor news, which it did during the recent uprising in Balochistan.

Even without the Internet, though, Iran fears those people within the country who may tell the truth. Reporters Without Borders ranks it as one of the world’s most oppressive countries for journalists:

Iran is still one of the world’s most repressive countries for journalists, subjecting news and information to relentless control. At least 860 journalists and citizen-journalists have been prosecuted, arrested, imprisoned and in some cases executed since the 1979 revolution. 

In the last year alone, Iran has become even more repressive than it was just the year before, no doubt due to the damage COVID is inflicting on the country.

There are innumerable examples of Iranian journalists who have been severely punished for their work. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps arrested Soheil Arabi, an Iranian photographer, blogger, and civil rights activist in November 2013. Although the death sentence was imposed against him for his journalism, it was overturned thanks to international protests. However, he is still in prison and is reputed to be tortured.

In April 2020, a reporter published a news article about a letter from the president of Golestan University of Medical Sciences in which he warned nurses that they would be imprisoned and flogged if they left a shift during the COVID outbreak. The journalist who reported this story was arrested and prosecuted. He simply vanished into the system and I don’t even know what happened to him.

One of the most infamous cases was that of Sattar Beheshti, an Iranian blogger, who was arrested and detained by cyber police on October 30, 2012, for criticizing government corruption. Once he was transferred to an unknown location they interrogated and tortured him so brutally that he died.

We know this because when news of his death became public, 41 political prisoners stated in a letter that Sattar Beheshti was in ward 350 of Evin prison from October 31 to November 1, 2021, and they could see the effects of torture on different parts of his body. According to them, “Beheshti was beaten in the Iranian police detention center, hung from the ceiling by his shackled hands and kicked in the head and neck.” 

While these are extreme examples, Journalists are constantly exposed to intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and long prison terms. The regime, with the help of the cyber army and police (FTA), regularly monitors and represses social network sites and openly sends threatening messages to those who say anything even slightly objectionable during chats.

From the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the Iranian regime has sought to prevent accurate reporting about the number of people COVID infected or killed. Regime opponents believe that it has been lying about the rate of the disease in Iran, announcing lower rates, and detaining and sentencing journalists who try to report the truth. It’s reasonable to believe that the real statistics are five times greater than the regime has said.

Iran doesn’t stop persecuting journalists within its own borders. To the best of my understanding, several journalists left Iran illegally to take refuge in other countries for fear that they would be arrested. However, they still face the risk of being kidnapped and returned to Iran or assassinated outright.

The Iranian people yearn for information and the Iranian regime will do anything to make sure they do not get it. Any regime that prevents the free flow of information within its borders is almost certainly lying to its people.

IMAGE: Soheil Arabi, a prisoner in Iran (before his arrest) by Nano GoleSorkh. CC BY 3.0.

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